Riba Awards 2015: Eight housing schemes named best new buildings in Britain

The projects are among 37 winners

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The Independent Culture

Modern housing development in Britain have a reputation for poor quality, cheap materials and unimaginative design.

But increasing numbers of UK architects are proving that  housing schemes can possess style and flair - with eight such developments named among the best new buildings in the country.

The projects -  from housing association properties to luxury apartments - are among 37 winners of this year’s Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) National Awards, the most prestigious awards for new buildings in the UK.

The unprecedented number of housing schemes on the list comes just four years after Riba hit out at many new developments for being “shameful shoe-box homes.”

While other, more eye-catching winners of this year’s awards included a fishing hut, a whisky distillery, and the transformation of the National Theatre, Riba called the high quality housing developments “the stand-out trend” of 2015.

 

Architect Philip Gumuchdijian, chair of the Riba Awards group, said: “There is obviously a desperate need for housing. It can be difficult to create beautiful spaces when there is a formula but this is a year of good architecture that will be useful.”

He added that the nominated projects showed it was  “possible to build exceptional new housing developments that are profitable, sustainable and desirable places to live”.

Housebuilders were improving the quality of their schemes to differentiate themselves from the competition and because they know that well-designed buildings are less likely to face local planning objections, Mr Gumuchdijian added. He identified the Stirling Prize given to the Accordia project in Cambridge in 2008 as a key turning point.

The housing projects on this year’s RIBA list included the regeneration of over 200 homes on the Gorbals district of Glasgow. Another is Darbishire Place in Whitechapel, east London, for Peabody housing association. “It is a super high quality block that is beautifully crafted,” Mr Gumuchdijian said. “That’s Peabody, notionally among the most economic. And it’s beautifully done.”

Among the private housing developments honoured were the 14 distinctive homes in the heart of St Andrews’ old town at well as the Richard Rogers’ Neo Bankside towers in London. “The idea of making large mansion blocks lost its way for many years, but appears to be coming back, which is great,” Mr Gumuchdijian said.

He also hailed the small private developments such as Parkside in Derbyshire, which is clad in local millstone block. “They are producing beautiful places in historical context, improving the local town, it’s brilliant.”

Another trend on this year’s list is the renaissance of bricks as the dominant material amongst the award winners. Riba’s president Stephen Hodder said it was an “intriguing” development and, adding: “Brick is firmly established in the British psyche as a safe, long-lasting, familiar material. Architects are using it more and more. People are interested less in fake bricks but more in real brickwork and craftsmanship.”

This comes despite a brick shortage in the UK with the Federation of Master Builders warning housing projects would be threatened by contractors struggle to get deliveries of bricks in less than two months.

Riba's best: Top eight buildings

St Mary of Eton Church, Hackney Wick, east London

NEO Bankside, south-east London

Brentford Lock West, west London

Darbishire Place, Whitechapel, east London

Abode, Great Kneighton, Cambridge

Parkside, Matlock, Derbyshire

West Burn Lane, St Andrews

Laurieston Transformational Area, Glasgow

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